In today’s Contra Costa Times story about Scott David Weinberg, the optometrist accused in arson fires in downtown Walnut Creek, the reporters asked whether his most recent employer knew about “his past,” which presumably would include his mental illness and history of hospitalizations.
Weinberg had worked at For Your Eyes Only, a practice in the Ygnacio Valley Shopping Center, from August 2006 until this past July, “when he abruptly quit. When the Times asked senior optometrist Wayne Martin if the practice knew of Weinberg’s “past,” Martin replied. “Not that I know of. … He was fine, and got along with all the patients.”
When someone has been diagnosed with a mental illness and wants or needs to work–and can work–they face a difficult decision in whether to disclose their illness to a prospective employer, or after they have been hired.
They may not get the job, because of stigma against people with mental illness, or face on-the-job discrimination, meaning they might not win job promotions or raises.
Still they might want to tell, if they feel the need to explain gaps in their resume, or if they think their mental illness–a recognized disability under the federal American With Disabilities Ac
t–would require certain workplace accommodations. For example, someone with schizophrenia may hear voices
(a symptom of this medical
condition) which may interfere with concentrating on a task for long periods of time.
Most people with mental illness probably would like to tell, because they don’t want to hide something so fundamental about themselves. And, some would like to educate or help others when they disclose. However, those good intentions only work up to a point, according to a 2007 article
in the Washington Post
“The vast majority are saying to themselves, ‘Why would I ever disclose? Everybody’s afraid of people with mental illness.’ ” So says Stephen Hinshaw
, chairman of the psychology department at the University of California at Berkeley and author of The Mark of Shame: Stigma of Mental Illness and an Agenda for Change
, in an interview with the Post
. But, he continues, “That only perpetuates shame, ignorance, and an inability to proactively take steps to ease the situation.”
The ADA prohibits any kind of descrimination against people with a disability, including a mental illness. It requires employers of 15 or more employees to provide an equal opportunity to qualified individuals, and it prohibits discrimination in various aspects of employment.
But while employers can’t discriminate against employees who are qualified to do the job, they are not obligated to hire anyone you cannot perform the essential functions of the job.
It doesn’t sound like Weinberg told his employers at For Your Eyes Only. He was not legally obligated to do so, and the practice couldn’t ask when hiring, according to this ADA Q&A sheet
“An employer cannot make any pre-employment inquiry about a disability or the nature or severity of a disability. An employer may, however, ask questions about the ability to perform specific job functions … ”
It sounds like, for the time he was there, he was able to do the work.